From the Beer Writer: You know that feeling when you arrive at a bar or a friend’s house and, before you can even say a word, you’re handed a beverage that you hastily take a sip of and instantly find yourself completely blown away by? Of course you do. It’s one of those magic moments beer-lovers live for: the exciting discovery of something brand new and exquisite. That happened to me last weekend at Dos Desperados Brewery. I arrived at that San Marcos establishment to help staff one of my Beer to the Rescue fundraising events and was greeted by a full pour of a lovely golden beer with a fluffy white head, Dos Desperados Nelson Lager. Happy to be there and off State Route 78, I dove right in…and fell in love. It was the perfect beer for the sunny day I was in the midst of—light in body yet big on hop and lager-yeast character in the nose and on the palate. The limestone and floral notes from the yeast dovetailed beautifully with vinous flavors from the Nelson Sauvin making up the beer’s entire hop-bill. It was simple yet special, so much that I could have spent hours drinking pint after pint, something that wouldn’t have been too tough given the beer’s 4.9% alcohol-by-volume stat. The recipe for this all-day pleaser (which, as good as it was, is only in its R&D phase) was developed with fellow San Marcos operation, Prodigy Brewing Company, with assistance from a noted lager expert at Mission Valley’s Gordon Biersch brewpub. I’m glad to report it will be on-tap and helping Beer to the Rescue tomorrow, and soon become a staple in Dos Desperados’ year-round portfolio.
From the Brewer: “Our Nelson Lager is a Prodigy Brewing, Gordon Biersch and Dos Desperados Brewery collaboration for Beer to the Rescue that benefits the Lupus Foundation of Southern California. A special thanks goes out to Dean Rouleau and Doug Hasker for this Czech-style lager with rich, crisp maltiness and freshly crushed gooseberry flavor—think Sauvignon Blanc grapes from New Zealand, which come care of the Nelson Sauvin hops we used.”—Steve Munson, Owner & Brewmaster, Dos Desperados Brewery
I would be challenged to remember the last time I saw any business receive as much support while out of business as Indian Joe Brewing (2123 Industrial Court, Vista). The family-run operation abruptly shut down when it lost its base of operations to landlord disputes in 2015. Owners Max Moran and Geri Lawson immediately got to work looking for a new spot to install their brewery, but it took a while—two years to be exact. In a county with more than 140 operating brewhouses, there’s little reason for even the most devoted of beer-drinkers to hold a candle for the return of one of the smallest of the suds scene’s sojourners, but hundreds of Indian Joe fans remained just that…fans. Not the casually interested kind, but the most engaged breed of supporters, communicating with the owners over social media and in-person when possible, following them as they sought out a new facility and, after finding it, took on the task of not only reopening, but growing the business by leaps and bounds in the process. The result is the current iteration of Indian Joe, which opened in March and is fulfilling the long-entertained dreams of Moran, Lawson and the many hopeful beer enthusiasts crowding their corner.
During the lengthy road to Indian Joe 2.0, I also stayed close to the business’ founders, visiting the project site and wondering just how much of their ambitious agenda they would actually be able to realize. Installing a 15-barrel brewing system, an extensive stainless steel cellar, tons of oak barrels for aging and a huge tasting room; taking over an abutting building for warehouse space; distributing throughout the county in kegs, bottles and cans. Keep in mind, they were coming from a business-park brewery where Moran brewed several times a day on a meager 20-gallon system simply to keep beer on-tap at the sole source of consumption, Indian Joe’s tasting room. It was nicely appointed and featured many an outlandish brew that, frankly, weren’t for everybody. It wasn’t exactly the type of operation one would figure to be ripe for financial backing and expansion, but Moran and Lawson easily secured enthusiastic financing to take things to the next level. While permitting and construction of their new spot proved much more difficult, a recent visit reveals they’ve accomplished many of their goals and are on-track to breathe life into the rest.
Indian Joe has a whopping 30 beers on-tap. That’s admirable—but only if the beers are of quality. Quantity is nothing without quality. After tasting through more than half of the offerings the day I was there, I can say that Indian Joe’s beers taste better than at any point in the company’s history. What makes that even more impressive is the range of styles and the retaining of the anything-goes approach that birthed oddities like a Margarita Gose aged in tequila barrels; blueberry, plum and ginger sour ale; and honey-oatmeal tripel with Vietnamese and Ethiopian Baraka Buna coffees. What to the beer-purist (and even some adventurous drinkers) sounds like a rundown of the tap-list at an insane asylum…wait for it…tastes rather nice. Sure, you have to be in the mood for something avant-garde, but I often am and enjoyed all three of these beers in addition to an “imperial red sour” with blackberries and black currants, “Indian Sunrise” blood orange and sweet cherry Gose and apricot-peach sour. All three are ideally suited for the hot-weather months just around the corner.
But not all of the beers are weird at Indian Joe. There’s a Belgian-style witbier (which also comes infused with lime or tangerine), a robust porter (another version of which is available spiked with chocolate and hazelnut) and a variety of IPAs, including a double, a flagship infused with white sage and, to show they can fall in line with the best of them, a Northeast-style number for the haze-crazy. The IPAs are better than the ones I remember from the original Indian Joe. The increase in overall quality isn’t just the result of purchasing new, larger, more state-of-the-art equipment. Moran and Lawson brought on a head brewer, Grant Heuer, who last brewed at Temecula’s Refuge Brewery and Relentless Brewing as well as Las Vegas’ Big Dogs Brewing. In addition to bringing experience, he has also brought brewers and brewing ingredients from Riverside County (where he still resides) to the table, resulting in collaboration beers (including that hazy IPA created with Electric Brewing) and the java from Augie’s Coffee utilized in the aforementioned out-there tripel and Indian Joe’s imperial oatmeal coffee stout.
Also upgraded is the environment in which the beers can be experienced. Indian Joe’s 4,000 square foot tasting is one of the largest in the county. Visitors can drink at the long downstairs bar, high-tables or an outdoor patio…and that’s just the ground floor. There’s an L-shaped upstairs area with windows looking out onto State Route 78, a rail bar and numerous plush leather couches. Moran and Lawson clearly made the most of all the time they spent waiting on agencies to respond and construction issues to be resolved. The immense amount of time was worth it and the faith in these entrepreneurs from their loyal fans well placed.
Many know Ryan Brooks for his work as brewmaster at Coronado Brewing Company. During his tenure, that interest has won numerous awards, including Champion Mid-Size Brewing Company at the 2014 World Beer Cup. That’s dream-come-true territory, but Brooks isn’t finished dreaming. He’s about to realize another long-held aspiration—opening his own brewery. The name of that business will be SouthNorte Beer Company, and it’s scheduled to debut this summer.
Brooks will get by with a little help from his friends, most ostensibly his family at Coronado Brewing. That company’s founders, brothers Ron and Rick Chapman, are key investors and that’s where the initial brewing of SouthNorte’s beers will be done (the search is on for a separate facility to house the business). But he’ll also garner inspiration from friends he’s made spending a great deal of time exploring the craft-brewing culture south of the border. As the name implies, SouthNorte will combine elements of Mexico’s burgeoning beer scene with the craft culture here in San Diego. A press release describes the business as “an American brewery that blends the rustic flair of Mexico with the art of San Diego craft brewing.” Brooks sees pulling from two cultures as a way to extract the best from both and end up with the finest end-result.
In the course of my reporting on the San Diego brewing industry, I have met a number of brewers from Baja locales including Tijuana, Ensenada and Mexicali. Nearly all of them have mentioned receiving assistance, tutelage or encouragement from Brooks. He is something of a cult figure down there who has forged many legitimate friendships during innumerable cross-border visits. Few would be better suited to bring this intercultural vision to life and it should be exciting to watch…and taste.
Recently, I was interviewed about the state of the local brewing industry in the wake of Big Beer interests—AB InBev-owned 10 Barrel, MillerCoors-owned Saint Archer, and Constellation Brands-owned Ballast Point Brewing—elbowing their way into the San Diego market. In answering questions, I echoed the primary lament of employees at independent breweries throughout our county, which is the concern that people who want to support local, authentically “craft” breweries will think they are doing so by purchasing beers from the aforementioned companies (as well as other acquired brands including Wicked Weed Brewing, Elysian Brewing and Goose Island as well as “faux craft” brands such as Blue Moon and Shock-Top) due to subterfuge and falsehoods conveyed via Big Beer marketing campaigns. It is a consumer’s right to choose. If they make an informed decision to purchase ales and lagers from Big Beer because they aren’t concerned about buying and drinking local, that is their prerogative. But for people who do care and go out of their way to buy local, San Diego breweries simply want those folks to get what they they think they are paying for and feel comforted in the knowledge that they are, in fact, supporting San Diego breweries.
At this point, I was asked what consumers can do to ensure they aren’t fooled. It’s a great question and, being so entrenched in the industry, something brewing company employees probably don’t think about as often as would be prudent. The obvious answer is “educate yourself”, but it leads to another great question: HOW? And I have a solid answer: Visit the Breweries list at SDBeer.com and scan the list of Guild members. The Guild’s regulations dictate that no brewing company owned in whole or in part by a Big Beer interest can qualify for membership. This is to protect the integrity of membership as the organization strives to educate the public on the importance of supporting local breweries (be on the lookout for an upcoming “get educated” campaign from the SDBG), especially as they find themselves under increasing attack from macro-beer giants with far greater resources and far less honorable (and far less legal) business practices. You can trust this list to guide you to bona fide independent operations. And you can help local breweries by sharing this online resource with others who share your locavorian ethics. It actually protects local consumers from more than just Big Beer.
Membership in the San Diego Brewers Guild and participation in its initiatives is voluntary. Although the Guild enjoys nearly 100% membership by qualifying businesses, no arms are twisted. The Guild has been key to the evolution and prominence of San Diego craft beer for the past two decades. Yet, believe it or not, there are some local brewery owners who choose not to be a part of it. While that decision in and of itself does not vilify a local, independent brewery, it does tell you something about that company. In a time when banding together and helping not only local businesses, but local consumers has never been more important, there are outliers who aren’t heeding the call to arms. Locavores looking to support local breweries would do well to patronize the 100-plus operations looking to actively protect this region’s reputation and incredible sense of community over those who abstain.
As an aside (and I am in no way asserting that owners of non-SDBG member breweries fit the following description), there’s a new strain of brewery entrepreneur out there—people who think they have all the answers; who don’t help their neighbors and colleagues; who go it alone because they think so highly of and want everything for themselves; who honestly believe that every component of their business should be proprietary in an industry built on the open and honest exchanges of information, equipment, ingredients, manpower and, of course, beer. It’s sad to see. Without the openness and friendship they opt out of, the American craft-beer movement would not have progressed to the point where they would be able to be a part of it. To enter the brewing industry and actively erode the sense of camaraderie that makes it so special rivals the obfuscation and monkey-wrenching of Big Beer. With so many San Diego breweries upholding the long-held values that make this region’s beer scene so special, there’s no reason not to patronize them first or even exclusively. The key component there is to know who is making your beer and who is behind each brewery. Because so many of these individuals are locally focused beer-lovers just like you, it’s a fun rabbit hole to venture into, and the best first step is SDBeer.com.
San Diego beer is a wonderful thing. Locals and guests alike should feel good about enjoying it. The latest efforts of macro-breweries and money-grabbing newcomers have complicated things and made it harder to have a beer in tandem with a clean conscious. Fortunately, consulting the list of active San Diego Brewers Guild members provides an easy way to put all the business BS aside and go back to savoring local, independent, artisanal beer.
Today, Main Street in Vista’s historic village area is home to three brewery-owned businesses, including a production brewery (Wavelength Brewing Company) and brewpub (Belching Beaver Brewing Tavern and Grill). But it all started with a satellite tasting room from nearby operation Mother Earth Brew Co. Originally, that large taproom was connected to a homebrew supply store, an extension of the roots established by a retail recreational brewing goods outlet at MEBC’s brewery. That venue has since been closed in order to bring an entirely new concept to life: Mother’s Provisions.
Located at 204 Main Street, the new venue will benefit from increased square-footage and, City-willing, outdoor seating. Mother’s Provisions will serve beer, wine (on draft and from bottles stored in a “wine cave”), cider, cold-brew coffee and numerous small-plate menu items, which can be consumed onsite along with charcuterie, cheese, confections and seasonal edibles procured from a variety of local purveyors. The space will have 20 taps dispensing MEBC beer as well as a large selection of ales and lagers from guest breweries. Seating options will include tables, standing rail-bars and multiple “lounge areas.”
“We are thrilled to bring this long-anticipated concept to life,” says MEBC vice president Kevin Hopkins. “Mother Earth is already a well-known anchor and attraction to the historic downtown Vista district. It is exciting to add to what is rapidly becoming a hospitality driven area.” Mother’s Provisions is currently under construction and scheduled to open in late summer. It is one of several locally based initiatives for the multi-state brewing company.